The news and images from Japan are shocking: the death toll from the earthquake and tsunami is estimated to be more than 10,000 people, and hundreds of thousands more have been displaced by flooding, massive fires, and the threat of radiation poisoning.
Oxfam staff in Tokyo say that, though they have experienced many earthquakes, they have never seen buildings shake the way they did on Friday. Aftershocks and rolling blackouts are keeping the population weary, while the threat of a nuclear meltdown is looming.
Oxfam has been ready to assist but is not launching a major humanitarian response at this time. We usually focus our resources on communities where governments have been unable—or, in some cases, unwilling—to provide for their people. But the Japanese government has a tremendous capacity for responding in crises, and a clear commitment to using its resources to the fullest.
And—particularly in the midst of a nuclear crisis—we do not want the demands of coordinating the work of outside aid providers to draw on the resources of the government.
Nevertheless, in emergencies there are always communities that fall below the radar and cannot easily access humanitarian relief. Barriers of language or residency status, for example, can have tragic consequences at times like these.
“The Japanese state has the means to reach 99% of the population,” says Oxfam Japan Executive Director Akiko Mera, “but there will always be some who need more specific assistance.”
During the coming weeks, Oxfam Japan will channel resources to local organizations that can connect vulnerable groups with the assistance they need. Oxfam America is accepting funds for those and other efforts.